Through his time with The Shield, and especially after their breakup, Reigns and Cena appeared numerous times on the same or opposite sides of tag team matches and multi-way title matches. But for the better part of three (or more) years, the WWE sat on this as one of its "big money" rivalries. It was reiterated throughout the night on Monday as Raw played host to the contract signing for a No Mercy match between the two most polarizing men in professional wrestling. Phrases like 'WrestleMania-worthy' and 'dream match' got dropped repeatedly, and it brought up a great point -- why now? Why not WrestleMania?
It's entirely possible that a showdown next April will be the culmination of this rivalry, or perhaps Reigns will get another shot at Brock Lesnar and the Universal championship. Despite the mixed feelings live crowds have had toward Cena and Reigns, the fact that the promo between the two titans of WWE managed to overshadow both another Raw women's title change and a rare Lesnar quip on the microphone tells you everything you need to know about the intensity both men can (and will) bring to this rivalry.
Despite both men being positioned as company figureheads, their personality differences have led to some tweets that question the relationship of the duo. Because it's the world of wrestling, figuring out how much is real and how much is for the sake of building up their on-screen story is something that will be hotly debated for the duration of the conflict between Cena and Reigns, whether that be in the short-term through No Mercy and beyond.
From the moment Roman Reigns said, "No one's ever told you this before, John, but you're not as big of a deal as you think you are," it was clear that the gloves were off and WWE was going to let Reigns and Cena engage in a fourth-wall-breaking battle of wits. In blurring the lines of what was real and what wasn't, the verbal sparring carried on until no one outside of the two men in the middle of the ring could know where the characters ended and the men began.
As you might expect, Cena ran a few laps around Reigns in his moments of weakness.
"They go back and forth on you, they see what I see -- a cheap-a--, corporately created, John Cena bootleg," Cena replied to Reigns' opening salvo. Each man played off of each other's catch phrases, and when Reigns fell silent during the midway point of one of his major points, Cena hopped all over his foe in a moment that seemed to generate more genuine animosity between the two men than most of their respective haymakers (and was conveniently cut out of the YouTube version of the clip).
But when Reigns collected himself, he hit back hard, invoking thoughts of shovels, burying young talent and lobbing accusations of Cena being a phony and a "fake b----." After pointing to his United States title run and how he used it to introduce new talent, while Reigns took the U.S. championship as a demotion, Cena, as always, had to have the last word as well when confronted with the familiar dig of his becoming a part-timer.
"I blame you -- I'm still here because you can't do your job," said Cena.
The promo got the job done, and quickly chased awkward moments like the "you both suck" chants that portions of the Brooklyn crowd chanted at Cena and Reigns upon their first face-to-face meeting. For the second straight week, the pair teamed up in a one-upsmanship contest with Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson serving as their fodder this time around. With four weeks to go until No Mercy, they still haven't come to physical blows -- and if they can manage to stoke the coals of that fire and keep them burning brightly in the absence of physicality, it'll make No Mercy and everything that follows all the better for it.
Sasha Banks fails to defend her crown, again
With Alexa Bliss reiterating on multiple occasions that Sasha Banks, despite four Raw women's championship victories, had never successfully defended that title even once, it felt like a heavy-handed reminder and a chance for Banks to finally pull off that big win in the main event of Raw. While Banks overcame one of her other major hurdles at SummerSlam by winning -- all three previous wins against Charlotte Flair came on Raw -- she once again fell short as Bliss pulled off a relatively clean victory following a fun, competitive match to regain the title in the process.
Bliss continues to improve in the ring, although a lot of credit belongs with Banks for some of the match's standout moments, but with this win she enters some rarified air. As a two-time Raw and two-time SmackDown women's champion, she joins Banks and Flair as the only four-time champions in the post-brand split era. There are plenty of arguments to be made about so quickly hot-shotting the titles back-and-forth so many times in the last 13 months, but you can't deny that Bliss continues to look like a major centerpiece in the future of WWE women's wrestling.
The post-match celebration with Nia Jax, which turned into Jax's moment of no return, had all the shades of the Randy Orton and Evolution championship celebration of 13 years ago when Batista hoisted Randy Orton onto his shoulders only to drop him when he least expected it. The friendship between Jax and Bliss was fun to follow both on-screen and on Instagram, but Jax laying out her diminutive little buddy served as the perfect reminder that the Raw women's division doesn't always have to be a two-woman show.
Hits and misses
- It's highly unusual for a Lesnar/Paul Heyman promo to fall this far into a recap, especially when Lesnar grabs the mic out of Heyman's hands mid-promo, but it was just that packed an episode of Raw this week. Heyman spent five minutes building up Strowman as the most worthy contender to the Universal championship, and praised him for how he was able to powerslam Lesnar through a table twice without colluding with Reigns or Samoa Joe at SummerSlam.
"I don't believe in monsters, but I believe Braun Strowman is one," Heyman remarked.
But he also made it clear that Lesnar wasn't going to duck the "Monster among Men" (who we didn't see for the first time on Raw since his return from injury) -- he was going to hunt Strowman.
That's when Lesnar grabbed the microphone and uttered one sentence that had as much impact as all of Heyman's flowery prose.
"What he's trying to say is, 'Suplex City, b----'."
- The battle royal to determine the new No. 1 contender to The Miz's Intercontinental championship served a lot of masters, but ultimately opened up Raw with in-ring action that energized the show from the start. It became clear that Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt isn't quite over yet, and Jason Jordan falling just short once again was a nice touch. Jeff Hardy winning was certainly a surprise, but that should make for some fresh possibilities once Hardy and Miz meet in the ring next week.
- The consecutive matches between Seth Rollins and Cesaro, and Dean Ambrose and Sheamus, were a fitting way to start to stretch things out in their rivalry on the way to their inevitable forthcoming rematch. That the latter contest was able to outshine the former in the ring was a bit surprising, but speaks to the chemistry all four men have.
- With as much history as Memphis has with Elvis, having Elias crap on the city was inevitable. It made a certain amount of sense to bring out Heath Slater's Southpaw Regional Wrestling alter-ego Pelvis Wesley too, at least on paper, but the Memphis crowd was having absolutely none of it.